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Gohona Bori

Amongst Bengali speaking people, the bori refers to small pieces of spiced or unspiced, sun dried, black gram lentil paste, which are eaten fried. The Sanskrit work batika (small round shapes) is the origin of the word bora from where the diminutive bori has appeared.

Black lentil, known as urad dal (Hindi) or kolai or beuli dal (Bengali) has the distinction of being the cheapest of available pulses while boasting of having the highest nutritional content. It is the poor man’s staple food. Over the centuries, this lentil and items made from it were given an important place in major festivals and everyday rituals. A bridegroom was traditionally welcomed with a set of delicacies prepared from this lentil (dal).

There are many types of boris – made with different kinds of lentils and seasoning and formed into small dumplings. While the simpler boris are easily available and a common sight in most Bengali households, the Gohona Bori is a fast disappearing village craft. The word Gohona or the colloquial Goyna means jewellery in Bengali. The novelty of this craft lies in using this ordinary lentil paste to turn out delectable boris in highly intricate, jewellery like patterns which are aesthetically pleasing to the eye and palate. They are also known as noksha or nokshibori (nokshi meaning drawing or motif). These boris have been popular for centuries and have found mention in Bengali literature. Eminent persons like Abanindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra, Nandalal Bose etc. have heaped praises on this delicious edible item which also is a unique decorative art. 



Amongst Bengali speaking people, the bori refers to small pieces of spiced or unspiced sun dried, black gram lentil paste, which are eaten fried. The Sanskrit work batika (small round shapes) is the origin of the word bora from where the diminutive bori has appeared.

Black lentil, known as urad dal (Hindi) or kolai or beuli dal (Bengali) has the distinction of being the cheapest of available pulses while boasting of having the highest nutritional content. It is the poor man’s staple food. Over the centuries, this lentil and items made from it were given an important place in major festivals and everyday rituals. A bridegroom was traditionally welcomed with a set of delicacies prepared from this lentil (dal).

There are many types of boris – made with different kinds of lentils and seasoning and formed into small dumplings. While the simpler boris are easily available and a common sight in most Bengali households, the Gohona Bori is a fast disappearing village craft. The word Gohona or the colloquial Goyna means jewellery in Bengali. The novelty of this craft lies in using this ordinary lentil paste to turn out delectable boris in highly intricate, jewellery like patterns which are aesthetically pleasing to the eye and palate. They are also known as noksha or nokshibori (nokshi meaning drawing or motif). These boris have been popular for centuries and have found mention in Bengali literature. Eminent persons like Abanindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore, Bankimchandra, Nandalal Bose etc. have heaped praises on this delicious edible item which also is a unique decorative art. 

Traditionally, a bride has to be accompanied by boris to her marital home and in winter when her parents send her in-laws winter vegetables, their status is consolidated only by the gohona boris sent.  Rhymes for children also reflect the position occupied by boris in people’s lives:

Khukurmon keno bhaari /paate nei je goyna bori
    (Why is our little girl sad? It is because there are no goyna boris on her plate
Meye jacche shoshur baari/ shongi holo goyna bori
Our daughter is leaving for her marital home and her companion is goyna bori)

East Medinipur is the birthplace of this highly innovative home grown skilled craft. This is probably because the lentil is abundant in East Medinipur with most of the villagers growing it on their own land. Practised by the ladies of the villages, the craft is not religious or traditional in connotation- just an intrinsic part of a housewife’s winter routine.

In West Bengal, lentils are sown in March-April and August. The August crop which is said to be more productive is harvested in November to December. Freshly harvested lentils are the preferred choice for making boris since the glutinous quality reduces with age. The activity starts on the sixth day of the month of Kartik (October-November) and continues till the end of winter. The lentil is soaked in the evening and rubbed the next morning to remove the black husk. This yields a soft white dal which when ground to a paste is quite sticky. Boris made in any other season, do not turn out as well or as white.

The making of boris involves the women of the community. There is a sanctity surrounding the creation of the Gohona Bori and associated rituals in Medinipur. All the ladies in the neighbourhood are invited to the maker’s home. Emphasizing the need for cleanliness, they have to be freshly bathed and in fresh clothes to participate in the making ritual. The entire activity takes place amidst much gossip and camaraderie with old stories recounted by the elders in the group.

Traditionally, twelve married women (not widows) stand touching the artist to start the process. There is a strict hierarchy to the roles. The senior exponents make the boris while the learners make the paste and render peripheral help. The unhusked lentils are ground on stone and the paste is tested to check for smoothness. A pinch is thrown into a bowl of water- if it floats, it passes the test.

The paste is placed in a cloth and squeezed out slowly, the base design being laid out in a clockwise direction. A layer of finer embellishments are then made in an anticlockwise direction. Any refinements or corrections are performed using a sharp stick where the helpers come in handy.

One of the most important ingredients in making these delicious boris is dried opium seeds (posto). However, since it is not grown locally and is expensive, sesame seeds are often used as a substitute. The seeds are spread out on the surface and the boris are created on them. This not only prevents them from sticking to the surface, but also imparts a lovely taste to the dried boris. Most housewives use sesame seeds, and some even apply a thin film of mustard oil on the surface.

Nurtured and evolved by the local female population of Medinipur, this skill has gained popularity in other parts of West Bengal chiefly because of local girls moving into their marital homes in other parts of the state. Others have been influenced by them. Some have combined the art of bori making with the art of decorative alpana drawing and raised gohona boris to artistic heights with delicately executed intricate designs. Housewives eagerly await the coming of winter to embark upon this creative activity. Even the newcomers to the area are caught up in the excitement.

In the past few years, this skilled art form has been instrumental in empowering local women in Medinipur, where this has now been raised from a household industry to a cottage industry. The local administration and some self help groups are trying to revive this dying form and they also sell these decorative delicacies through co operatives. 

Converting boris into a financially feasible marketable product seems a distant dream. Decorations in colour and nutritive additives like powdered mushrooms are being attempted but their success is dependent on the acceptance by buyers. Chemical additives and a slight reduction in the whiteness may not sell. Packaging these delicate, crumbly boris will present a challenge if they are to be marketed outside the country. Currently they are packed in a bedding of puffed rice to prevent them from cracking. Packing them in air filled polybags inside a carton would work, as would emulating the packaging used by biscuit and wafer makers. There was an earlier attempt to package and market these boris under the brand name Urja, an umbrella name for all Self Help Group products of Purba Medinipur, but efforts seem to have died out.

The fear remains that in the event of the Gohona Bori acquiring worldwide status, the domestic industry will be replaced by replicas much like the traditional kantha.


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